It is incredibly difficult, and normally more expensive, to grow your business with only new business opportunities. Certainly word of mouth, an abundance of cash in the industry and being in the right place at the right time can always give any contractor a huge shot of growth. However, such good times don't always last, and when the economy tightens up those contractors who were "riding the crest" often find a very quick ending, sometimes even losing their businesses.
The key to long-term growth and to riding out the good and the not-so-good economic times can be accomplished by emphasizing the effort to gain repeat sales. While most contractors I have worked with through the years have all had a percentage of repeat customers, they have not always viewed that part of their marketing as anything in need of a more formal approach. Let me share with you a few tips that may gain you more work in the future from a greater percentage of your existing customers.
#1 Perform the "basics" well.
I'll just lump several items under this first technique: Offer a great finished project, provide A+ customer service, keep your customer informed and updated during the project, stay organized, clean up, etc. If you do not perform the "basics" well you'll never get a second job or referral.
#2 Ask the customer about future work.
Most contractors are lackadaisical when it comes to asking customers about future work opportunities. Asking about future work should not be something you just mention as you're walking away from the current project or an easy-to-overlook phrase you include in your last billing statement. If you have just performed A+ work then you should not be shy or subtle about inquiring about future work. Make it a point of conversation over coffee during a customer visit prior to the present job's completion and state boldly, "Mr. Smith, I really would like to do your next project."
#3 Recommend additional work opportunities.
Admittedly, some customers have little vision about future project needs. What may be hard for them to imagine might be crystal clear to you. It is a good technique to suggest to a client additional work that could be completed, what the work would do to add value to their existing property and what the cost of doing the work today might be compared to waiting. In some cases the customer is just not a construction- or development-minded individual and they may look to others, including you, to give them feedback that they were not aware of.
#4 Ask for referrals.
One measurement I think contractors should track is how much business they get through referrals. In a sense, this constitutes the same effort, with similar results, as repeat business with the same client. Making a contact with a referral almost mirrors the comfortable sales approach that might be experienced with the referring client. There is already a comfort level because of the relationship that exists between your client and the individual they referred you to. Often, the referral looks at such a contact as, "Well, if this contractor is good for ol' Charlie then he's good enough for me." Some referrals may not be quite that honest or open, but there is a better than 50 percent chance you will land more work because of the referral process.
#5 Introduce clients to other project results.
You can never stop selling your existing clients on work you perform. Even while you are performing current work for a client, take that client to other projects you are working on, especially those that may be similar in scope or complexity to something the client has discussed with you as needing completion. This effort keeps the pipeline open to discussing their future goals, vision, building needs, etc. It is also a way to reiterate to the client that you can do many things other than what you are performing for them on a single project.
#6 Ask your client to assist your budgeting process.